ONLY ON ABC-7: Teacher asks community to help student buy wheelchair-accessible van

GoFundMe campaign short of $35,000 goal

Teacher helps student

EL PASO, Texas - Rachel Salcido's favorite subject is art. While talking to ABC-7, Rachel, 14, colored a vibrant rainbow while sitting next to a picture she recently finished of multicolored fish under the sea.

"I feel like you can express yourself without using words, and instead you can do it through images," Rachel said.

Her teacher at Sun Ridge Middle School in Far East El Paso, Gabriel Aragon, has taught art for seven years and practically gushes when talking about Shelly and her talent.

"I appreciate her attitude -- she loves coming to school -- and she enjoys everything about art," Aragon said. "She never says no or that she can't do anything. She's got a great sense of humor. Everything about her just shines when you get to know her."

What makes Rachel, or "Shelly" to her friends and teachers, more admirable is how she draws.

Shelly has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, or AMC. The condition affects her joints and limits her flexibility. Holding a writing utensil with her hand is difficult. So, she uses her mouth to create her artwork.

Walking is also impossible. So, Shelly is confined to a wheelchair. Recently, she transitioned from a manual to a power chair.

"I like my independence," Shelly said. "In the manual chair, I have to be pushed around and I don't really enjoy it."

And Aragon said being in the manually operated chair seemed to have a negative effect on Shelly, who was quiet and withdrawn until the switch.

"Once she was in her power chair, she made a 180 as far as with her personality," he told ABC-7. "She was more independent and more responsible. She was able to do more things."

In his goal to help Shelly continue growing, the art teacher started a GoFundMe campaign to help her family buy a van that can accommodate the power chair.

"Knowing that she is going to be going to high school, I didn't want her to be limited with joining extracurricular activities, which she loves joining," Aragon said. "Any kind of after-school activities -- or even just going out on weekends with her friends for a trip to the movies -- with her power chair she's able to have that independence as much as her condition (allows)."

The gesture has left the teen nearly speechless.

"Mr. Aragon was my favorite teacher, but I never expected him to start a campaign to help me out," Shelly said, before stopping and smiling.

Aragon told ABC-7 he's just doing his best to help his students in ways that are most beneficial to them.

"Each student is different and I try and accommodate them as much as possible, whether it just be giving them simple advice or introducing them to professionals in the community," Aragon said. "Giving them that gateway so they have those opportunities in the future."

While dozens have donated since the campaign kicked off in January, the goal of $35,000 is still far from being reached.

If you would like to help Rachel, click here.

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